September 1968

Canterbury. It’s a magical place. It’s the home of English Christianity and the ancient majesty of the Cathedral appropriately looms over the City. Everywhere that you turn there are reminders of legendary names: Beckett, Chaucer, Marlowe, Bagpuss. The air positively reeks of History. Back in the 60s the air reeked of something a little more exotic, and a new breed of legends emerged in this venerable City.

In the wake of Merseybeat, most British cities and towns had their own network of musicians who forged the local ‘sound’ and Canterbury was no exception, however unlike those other Provincial groups who now earn a living playing their hits in Sixties revival shows at Butlins, the "Canterbury Scene" grew to be something more than the fading memory of a few aging groups, endlessly regurgitating the past. Maybe it’s because they never actually had any ‘hits’ as such, but many of the original core Canterbury players are still around today, making music that’s just as experimental, challenging and satisfying as their 60s and 70s work. In fact, ‘Canterbury’ is now a ‘Sound’ rather than a ‘Scene’, because as the Canterbury cult has spread worldwide over the decades, some of the best ‘Canterbury’ music has been produced by non-Canterbury, indeed non-British musicians.

Now, a lot of you may visualize the Canterbury Scene as being a bunch of balding, bearded Beatniks with no dress sense, lost in their own isolated spaces, doodling away for hours on tuneless jazz dirges that bear such titles as "Opossum Impersonates Napoleon Scandal Part 8", or "Buttocks-First Movement". Well, yes it IS true that some Canterbury bands have been known to play music that changes time signature more often than a hyperactive millipede changes feet, but if you dig in further you find gorgeous melodies, dry lyrical wit, staggering instrumental technique played at a volume that would make Heavy Metal fans wet themselves ("Like Vinderloo coming through your ears" according to Hugh Hopper) and, perhaps unexpectedly, some of British Rock’s most individual vocalists.

Both of Canterbury’s most celebrated groups, The Soft Machine and Caravan, boasted a double-vocal facility within their ‘Classic’ early line-ups. The Softs had the urgent strainings of Robert Wyatt coupled with the ultimate lounge lizardry of Kevin Ayers, while Caravan featured the lighter than air naughtiness of Pye Hastings and the gently romantic eccentricities of former choirboy Richard Sinclair. The latter is possibly the most popular Canterbury scene figure of them all. A consummate Bass guitarist and an under-rated exponent of the 6-string instrument too, Richard was an original member of The Wilde Flowers, a loose, almost mythical aggregation that came to be viewed as the Mother of all Canterbury bands owing to the subsequent notoriety of many of its members. Richard later became a founding member of Caravan, and following his departure from that band in 1972 he has played in Hatfield & The North (probably the quintessential Canterbury band), Camel, In Cahoots and Skaboosh along with his own bands Caravan Of Dreams and RSVP. Richard is currently releasing a series of archive recordings on his own Sinclair Songs label. He’s also gigging all over the world-Japan, Norway and Seattle most recently-and working up new material. Your humble correspondent was privileged to spend a day with Richard at his home in the mythical St Dunstans area of Canterbury, chatting about ye olden times with Caravan. This is the Bassman’s Tale…

Trees - Caravan 1970

Can we go right back to the beginning? How did you get into music in the first place?
Right back to the beginning of time? I was born in Canterbury, on the 6th of June 1948 and my parents were very musically orientated. My father was a musician in Canterbury, an entertainer. He was a singer, bass player, double bass player and drummer. He used to play lots of the popular music of that time and all of that wartime stuff. My Grandad was also an entertainer. He did all of the old-time Pearly Kings stuff, and he used to have a Pub in Canterbury called the "King’s Head". I think the Sinclair family has been entertaining around here since about 1900. The family were also photographers. At the turn of the century they had a photography shop in Northgate, here in Canterbury, and they turned out some of the biggest prints done at the time. Actually I’m lucky to be on the planet at all. My Grandad was invited to go on the Scott expedition to the South Pole in about 1910, but Granny Sinclair, who sang in the old Sunday Music Halls, thankfully decided that he wasn’t going to go, because subsequently all of that team perished didn’t they.
Anyway, my musical career started when I used to do bits and pieces at school. I was three when I was first given one of these (strums a ukulele), my first instrument, and the funny thing is, I’ve just been given one now at the age of 55! So I’ll be going back through all of the tunes like "She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain When She Comes". Actually, maybe that’s where I got the "land of grey and pink" from, "She’ll be wearing pink pyjamas"! So I started then really, but the professional things started when I was at the Archbishop’s School in Canterbury. My musical developments were very much to do with the sort of melodic forms that Christians listen too, I suppose, even though we weren’t totally Christians at school of course. I still believe in a kind of spiritual faith of some sort, though I’m not sure exactly what it is yet, I’m still checking it out. But the musical form in Canterbury is pretty choral, with the Cathedral and the Churches and the Christian tradition here. As kids we used to go into Assembly and sing all of these tunes that were written anywhere from two or three hundred years ago to right up to date that had a quite religious bending, that sort of tonality, and I think that lots of the Canterbury Scene boys were maybe a bit influenced by that. Also I was certainly influenced by my father’s singing. I used to go and watch him when I was about 4 or 5 years old when he was doing concerts around Canterbury. I was subjected to someone entertaining people and I could see it was fun and I used to really enjoy it. I hadn’t got it in mind to do it myself then, but obviously if you’re born into a family where someone goes out and entertains and sings and banjo’s and guitar’s and double bass’s and drum’s then it’s a good start isn’t it? I met a few mates at school who were interested in music too, and by then my dad had given me a guitar so I was trying to ping out my own tunes. I’d heard so many tunes by then that it was quite nice to do it, and I think that was also passed down from my father because he was able to play a 4-string banjo behind whatever melody you can think of. If he could sing the melody then he could play all of these chords automatically. My sister’s boyfriend was also a guitarist and he showed me some chords when I was seven, so by the time I left college at 19 I’d gone through all of these early starts, the first one of which was getting involved with The Wilde Flowers.

What kind of impact did the Rock ‘n’ Roll "Explosion" of the 50s have on you?
It was The Beatles for me. The earlier Rock & Roll thing didn’t affect me much at all. I was more into the ‘pop’ music of the 50s because my father used to listen to it. He would tape it on a very early tape recorder, and then he’d listen to it and learn it and then get sheet music and sort the different tunes out. He wasn’t into writing his own tunes. He played the popular standards of the time either in big bands or small bands. We used to listen to the radio a lot when I was a kid at home, lots of musical programmes, but I would have been quite young for the Rock & Roll thing in the 50s. My sister, who was 9 years older than me, was listening to stuff like Mario Lanza! So we were listening to melodic stuff and the rock thing came along and I don’t think my father was particularly impressed with it. He liked some of the songs but he didn’t like the actual singing, or shouting. So no, I didn’t really get off on Elvis or Cliff Richard or any of them. We used to say what ‘orrible voices they’ve got, though in fact they were really good entertainers in a certain type of way. They were talented, but if you’d been used to listening to people like Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra or George Formby or who was the chap who used to sing "Cumberland Gap"? Lonnie Donegan! We used to learn his tunes! As a 14 year old, the first tune I learned on guitar went something like (sings in ‘skiffle’ voice) "It takes a worried man to sing a worried song. It takes a worried man to sing a worried song…and I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long", so that’s the first one I learned on guitar. And then it got worse than that! But we started to really work hard at it and I think the next was "There were bells on a hill but we never heard them ringing" you know, Beatles and all that.

"Till There Was You"
Yeah, so I learned all of those sort of tunes and did them at school. The first band I was in played in a village hall at a little place outside Canterbury called Bridge. The band was called "The Pulsators" and there was my mate Roger Tovey and Richard Someone-Else and Kenneth Wharfe. Actually Ken, I’ve just seen recently, was Princess Diana’s Bodyguard! Nice to see that he made it, and he was in that first band as a singer! Canterbury’s full of all these inter-links, like when I was at school all of those other lads were at school too, like the Hopper boys were at the Grammar School and my cousin Dave was in the Grammar School too. So was Mike Ratledge. I went to a Secondary Modern school, the Archbishop’s, so my thing was slightly different.

How did you meet the Hopper brothers (Brian and Hugh)?
Well what happened is that my dad used to go around and play local concerts. The Hopper boy’s parents used to go out and see my dad playing. They liked his music so they would go and see him sing. That’s one of the things you did in those days, dinner and dance stuff. So anyway there came a call one day from Hugh, who said that they had heard that I played guitar. They organised a meeting where I would go up and play in Tanglewood, their home in Giles Lane. So I went up there, aged 14 or 15, and played with the bigger boys. They were making a din on Chuck Berry and God knows else, and they were trying to write their own tunes. Before then I think I’d been playing a bit with my cousin Dave, though I hadn’t really met him at all until we were about 14 or 15, or recognised him as a similar sort of spark. I got on quite well with the Hoppers. My dad let me use his PA to play my guitar through, a kind of 1950s crocodile skin amp. Up we went, made a din, and it worked quite well. They’d been trying to organise a band for quite some time, and then people like Robert Wyatt appeared with a drum, a snare drum, and came and played, and slowly a band started to form.

The Hopper brothers were coming to Rock from a jazz direction?
They had listened to a lot of things. I’d listened to some jazz stuff but a more popular jazz kind of thing than they were into; because of Robert’s influence and being at Grammar school they had been collecting all of these early jazz records. I was interested by it. I was very interested when I got a tape from Hugh Hopper of tunes that he had written because on the back of the tape there was the whole of Eric Dolphy’s "Out To Lunch", which I remember listening to for two years after that, thinking "Christ! I’m into this stuff". I’d been into stuff like The Beatles which is harmonically interesting and has nice singing, and then suddenly I’m introduced to these people that played their instruments as if they were animals and God knows what else. The whole music form changed from just three or four chords and the melody-- this thing was expressive! That’s when I first came across it, through Hugh, but that’s when you do start to come across these things, when you start to play music.
In those early days everything was directed by Brian and Hugh. We had to play things like… they weren’t so interested in Beatles stuff, they wanted to "Rock Out!" Chuck Berry they were really into and all of the rhythm orientated Blues. I didn’t know much about Robert or Mike Ratledge’s background at the time as they were both slightly older than me. I was never totally influenced by him but I was always knocked out by Robert’s imagination. I was impressed that he could actually create these areas where he didn’t sound like he was singing as if he was someone who came out of the 1800s or whatever. He wasn’t trying to emulate things but was always looking for new angles and cross-references. Brian Hopper was like that too because he did infuse influences like Indian music or whatever into our music. It was quite wide and open and wasn’t just set from the radio. Most people then were directed on their musical taste by the radio, and some of them still are now.

So gradually a band came together?
During this period of time I was at college but I was going up once or maybe twice a week to see the Hopper brothers to play and they were trying out different people in Canterbury as singers. There was a man called Seeger, Dave Seeger I think his name was, and he lived next door to the Hoppers, he knew them at school. He’s a bus driver in Canterbury now. He came up and sang a couple of tunes, bits and pieces, but it didn’t quite work out and we never did any concerts with him. Brian was doing a bit of singing, and also Hugh. I was only singing a few things that I knew because I didn’t know any of the old Rock & Roll numbers then like they did. In fact it didn’t really entertain me actually. I didn’t like it much. Everybody gets absolutely horrified when I say that I don’t like The Stones and all that. I like them now, but back then I was just more interested in melodic things. I think one of the songs we actually did was a Beatles tune…was it (sings) "Imagine I’m in love with you dee dah dee dah" (possibly "If I Fell"). I wanted to do that but it never worked out. So I didn’t get the chance to gob off and actually sing because in fact I found it all a bit of a din. It was all a bit out of tune and a bit odd and it was trying to sound like all of these dirty Rock & Roll things. I was much more into Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas when I was 14 and The Beatles. I saw The Stones at Margate and all of that adulation that they got from screaming girls fans was quite nice and all that but when you’ve joined a band like The Wilde Flowers that are struggling to do similar things… but much more ethnic, sort of Mose Allison, "Parchman Farm", with singing like those folks sang, a bit out of tune and all wibberly, you know? Well, it was doing my head in! Anyway, eventually Robert Wyatt turned up with his drum and I mean A drum! Perhaps a bass drum and a snare drum, and he was a very interesting chap; pretty Bohemian I’d call him but he had his own social approach. Robert ting-tinged away and had a good time.

How did Kevin Ayers fit into this?
We met Kevin and Jane Aspinall, Kevin’s girlfriend who was in fact Pye Hasting’s sister. Kevin turned up at the ‘rehearsals’, Jane in one hand, bottle of Mateus Rose in the other. He was able to sing very well, had a good heart, was a good thinker, very deep, same kind of attitude as he has now and very wonderful with it too. I didn’t really appreciate him at the time. I thought ‘Oh God! Here’s another one of them who can’t actually sing in tune’. I actually had used to sing at school and you had to practice using your ears so that you can get some sort of note but that wasn’t what this music’s about. It’s about delivering the words in a sort of emotional way. You don’t have to pitch a note, there’s something else going on. I’ve seen Kevin just recently and had a very nice time and he’s singing great, standing on stage singing simple tunes, nice tunes. He’s an entertainer you know. People like him for that. But anyway, I got fed up with The Wilde Flowers after a while. Luckily I’d met Pye’s sister Jane and Pye turned up at our first concert with The Wilde Flowers, which was at The Bear & Key Hotel, and I said hello to Pye and made a connection with him while all of the gangs of girls who came with the different musicians girlfriends were all swapping partners and God knows what else. I was a 15 or 16 year old doing my first concert with this big bunch of older boys who are all hippies and hairy! I was given this very dark green shirt, very kindly made by Hugh’s mum, and of course I was the last in line and got given the dark green one--which was probably appropriate really--rather than a nice pink shiny one or the yellow one or the red one or the turquoise blue one. I got the dark green one!

Did the group go down well?
Yeah we went down pretty well, because we did sort of like a Rock & Roll show with some pop tunes of the time and some Blues thrown in like Mose Allison and stuff, all that thing. I think we even did a Donovan number and we did "Mr Tambourine Man". I remember singing "Hey Mr Tambourine Man, play a tune for me" when we did a concert at the local football ground.

You recorded some demos too?
We went to Wout Steenhuis’ recording studio and did I think, about 4 sessions altogether. Brian managed to keep the tapes of most of them I think, and they have been released through Voiceprint.

Wilde Flowers 1965

The first session in March 1965 included "Parchman Farm’ and Kevin Ayers’ "She’s Gone".
"She’s Gone" is good. That’s sort of like (sings) "She’s gone, she’s gone, ma baby’s gone, my little woman has gone", Kevin Ayers yeah? You can imagine almost that he’s singing it in that low voice. That’s basically all it was. It’s a quite interesting form of chords because it just goes "duh-du-duh, duh-du-duh etc etc" so there’s a load of chords and then it goes into the bridge which moves up a certain interval…

You still remember it?
I remember all the tunes I’ve ever played, from Camel, takes me a few moments. Hatfield and the North is the most difficult because it’s the most complex form of chordal structure and rhythms.

What about this first time in the studio? Nervous?
It was all geared for you. You just literally went in there, I think it all went down one mic and you plugged in and a man came out with a microphone, stuck it up and away you went. I think the first one was probably done on mono, onto 2 track, and as I say we just used to make a din. Listen to the CD. It was just a rather wobbly tuned din.

Was it the case that nobody really knew what was going to come out?
No, we’d done rehearsals and gigged a couple of times, usually parties. It wasn’t concert music, it was particularly for entertaining people to dance about to, and I’ve only ever half been into that really. But I was a bit limited in my imagination then and of course these were the ‘Big Boys’ who had listened to a lot of people-jazzers and God knows what else and they dealt the deal. But they particularly wanted to play Chuck Berry-esque or their own tunes, or Mose Allison.

Were they happy with the results?
I’m sure they were. Trying to get more concerts, the idea is that you made this small record, a 45 and you played it to people so that they could hear you so that you could get concerts.

Didn’t the Wild Flowers used to play the local cinema, in between films?

Cinema picture!!

I’d left by then I think. That was more Pye and Robert later. I think they tried to do most of the theatre stuff. There’s a photo of them leaving the cinema in a Mini-Moke with Dave Clark 5 stuff plastered all over it. When you live in a small town and you’re a small band you go round and advertise stuff. I remember Hugh making this special Wilde Flowers stamp and stamping it on everything, just going round trying to be known. I think Kevin Ayers thought up this name, "Wilde Flowers" with an ‘e’which meant that we were more ‘Hippy/Poppy’, trying to do our own thing. It was the fashion of the time I think.

Kevin was the first one to leave wasn’t he?
Yes he did. It wasn’t quite working out. I think they decided that it wasn’t working out, I don’t know, I wasn’t in the decision making thing then. I was just the youngest member of the band, playing guitar and trying to be in tune. Playing some very simplistic thing where you just play two notes, sort of ‘dink-dink, dink-dink’ because it was the way to do it rather than the ‘mudging in’. I mean, the ‘mudging in’ came in later with Caravan, but in the Wilde Flowers, they would have the ideas and I’d try to make them sound like they wanted it I suppose, with not too much ‘out’ of my own then, being only 16. I wasn’t very studied in the music forms and I’m still not in fact, but I enjoy them.

You did another demo and this time you got to sing on it.
I sang in the studio on the demo of "A Certain Kind". Pretty straight. Later it was used on the first Soft Machine album, where Robert made a really nice version of it with far more imaginative use of voice and using his character. He’s a very good entertainer. Yeah, for the period of time that I was in The Wilde Flowers obviously that did influence me quite a lot but then everybody I ever play with influences me if I really want to get in there and listen to it. But then I was just a young boy of 16 and I think I was more interested in messing about on my guitar at home on my own.

So at that stage you weren’t thinking of music as a career?
I’ve never thought of anything as a career to be honest with you, so I wasn’t that sort of minded, I just drifted along. I even do now really, but The Wilde Flowers, I suppose it’s fun for some people because it’s historic but personally I don’t really like it much to be honest with you.

Wide FlowersBut Wilde Flowers have come to be considered the root of All Canterbury Bands…
That’s down to journalism. The Wilde Flowers weren’t in a vacuum, there were lots of other bands around in Canterbury but they never actually got into the same wave-form as we did. When Caravan started in ’68, you’ve got the Soft Machine and us and suddenly we were put on the shelves around the world because we were labelled as this interesting, ‘Underground’, popular new sort of listening thing. Soft Machine more than us because they did big tours with Jimi Hendrix round America, so that was quite a big market they opened up. There were 2 bands opening up quite a large international market and then that’s what journalism starts to write about, they tell the news-this has happened-and then suddenly everyone relates back to all these interlinks between two bands that had become pretty well known, and The Wilde Flowers became part of that. The whole scene became bigger than any one particular part. It covers a lot of ground. Entertainment wise you have the pop element of it and there’s also the musicianly, jazz thing of it, but they inter-mix which is what is so interesting

You quit the Wilde Flowers to go back to college…
Yes, I got fed up with it. I just got bored with it. I didn’t have any ‘out’ with it. I didn’t have that ability to be able to find a new area to be in where I could cope with odd tunings and bits and pieces, and when you stop taking part it’s better that you leave rather than being in the way, especially if you feel like you’re not covering any ground or if you don’t really equate to the singers, which I didn’t then. I do more now. It would be quite nice to do some things with Kevin. I quite like the way he’s done it. I think he’s very talented. I expect he has a few things that he likes to say that amuse people and he says it in a rather sexy, emotional way for a lot of his popular audience.
Anyway, after I met Pye Hastings we got playing music a little bit, because there was this club called The Bee Hive and a man called Franco ran a Coffee House where small bands played and made a din in there. You went down there and you met your next girlfriend basically, and had a good laugh. It was really good fun for us young folks then. Caravan actually played there, Wilde Flowers did a couple of concerts. Pye and I used to play down there because a man called Peter Gilfillen was trying to build a studio there. Franco had allowed him to have the garage, and he got some money and was building this studio. We took part a bit and did a little bit of the woodwork but eventually I decided I was bored. I was more interested in playing things at college, because I was at the Art College then, doing Industrial Design, and I decided to leave The Wilde Flowers. I didn’t want to do their thing, I didn’t like the music much and so Pye joined them instead.

Did you still follow their progress after you left?
Not really. I didn’t bother because if you’re not actually doing the same thing you tend to do your own thing. I didn’t know what the Wilde Flowers were doing. I went to college and I was doing Silversmithing and the main things for me were visual and learning about the mechanics of products, the ergonomics of this tea-pot, that kind of thing. I was studying, but at the same time there were a load of people that were thinking of doing music, and lots of music was actually happening if you could catch hold of it. I remember when I was at Art College actually doing a concert and I started to play with lots of other folks. Actually, Robert Wyatt was a model at the Art College where I was so I used to see him in his underpants and have to draw him! All the Wilde Flowers members were tied up with the Art College anyway in as much as they had girlfriends from the college and everyone would end up playing music in their homes. It was mad, though it was really good fun obviously.

The Wilde Flowers ended up going in a more commercial, Motown influenced direction.
Yeah exactly because both Robert and Pye liked to sing Soul. Robert wanted to be a popular singer, a Rock singer and an entertainer because he liked dealing with lots of people and entertaining them with his bright ideas. He thought that was a good possibility. He actually likes a lot of pop music because that’s what he calls himself. He’s in the popular market.

So he wanted to be a "Star"?
I’m not sure, you’d have to ask him. I’m sure everyone thinks that way really, especially if you’re scoring the most women and have long blonde hair and you’re having fun like Robert was. I’m sure he did want to be a star, you know, but that’s what "Stars" do isn’t it? Score the fast car? Well Robert probably wouldn’t have needed the car but he would have needed the women to make sure that his emotional thing was ‘up’ and he could deliver the goods.

Robert soon quit The Wilde Flowers too though…
Oh he had other things to do. He went with this guy from up North and they had decided on a pop career together. A guy called Norman from Liverpool. That was quite a shock too although it was after I’d left.

The Wilde Flowers went through quite a lot of personnel changes didn’t they?

Yeah, it was like a bunch of mates really that played music together. They tried to stick a band together but it wasn’t totally professional because they all had day jobs.

They won a Radio London Rock Group Contest
Yeah, they did pretty well I think. They got more popular after I’d left. It’s the same with Caravan…

To move on, something must have got you interested in performing in a group again?
Pye and David Sinclair and Richard Coughlan! I was at college, they were in London. The Wilde Flowers had finished and they were trying to do their own thing. They were quite interested in forming a band. I was just available at the time and knew them as mates apart from Richard Coughlan, who I then got to know through Pye, and we formed a band that eventually got called Caravan. I decided yes, this is a good idea and yes I would like to do this and go on playing. So basically we just pissed about around Canterbury during a period of time when I was either going to go back to college or not! I decided that it would be nice to actually make this thing work. We needed some cash so we all went to work on a motorway except Richard who had his own job as a Dental technician in Canterbury. They’d been playing music together since The Wilde Flowers split, trying to spend as much time together to form a new band. They needed a bass player and singer. Nobody knew I was actually a guitarist and so we all clubbed together. Dave played a bit of bass and Pye and I played a two guitars thing, but then Dave wanted to play keyboards, so someone had to play bass. I quite liked playing bass and singing. It was no problem at all, so I picked up on the bass and eventually had to get one! My first bass was borrowed from Dave Sinclair, a Vox Cougar, and then my second bass was given to me to play by Hugh Hopper (who was then going off to Roadie with Soft Machine in America), a very nice Precision, which was a beauty and had lots of cuttings of wild flowers and all of this other stuff glued all over it. Dave put his energy into getting a nice big organ. He had a Vox Continental at the time but his dad bought him a Hammond in the end. Soft Machine left us all their Marshall equipment that they’d been using round England because they couldn’t take it to America, and so we became Caravan. We did 8 or 9 concerts around Kent after working on the motorway and got enough money to rent a place for three or four months, Westgate terrace in Whitstable, opposite the reservoir. We moved in and I did a bit of building work and made it soundproof. Dave had the biggest room because that’s where we used to rehearse, so he slept amongst all the smelly equipment, Good Old Dave, what a Beaut! His dad had bought him the Hammond Organ by then. It was an A100, which was rather interesting. It was carefully split in half so that we could manage to carry it because it was such a monster thing, and he still plays it today. Dave Sinclair is a very good keyboard player. He’s very influential, he’s melodic, he’s got that Sinclair trait, he uses melody.

Dave probably made Caravan stand out at the time because it was the age of guitar heroes apart from Keith Emerson with The Nice.
Yeah, but Dave’s always wanted to play solos like a guitar hero. Dave’s thing that makes him interested is that you’re eventful with your harmonics. He’s very into the Canterbury type harmonical area. His sound is particularly interesting. I think Mike Ratledge, Dave Stewart, all those people… Brian Auger, Pink Floyd’s keyboarder, all those things come from a time when new gadgets were becoming available, the fuzz-box, the wah-wah, the Hammond Organ, the Lowrey, they were used by lots of people who got in there and got it onto record, and then it became popular. Dave Sinclair uses the left hand side and he plays the tone keys, so one of his trademark sounds was that he could actually make it go round real trippy and keep changing the sound for every note but playing the notes at the same time as he’s changing the sound on there. Mike Ratledge played Lowrey but he used to have a pedal that would drop it a semi-tone, which is a sound very particular to Mike.

According to Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge was the straightest player that you could get and the rest of Soft Machine spent a lot of their time and energy trying to get him to ‘fuzz things up’ or do ‘daring’ things.
Yeah, you can understand that because he had a classical upbringing. His father was my Headmaster, which was my only real connection to Mike. Mike was an amazing long-haired ‘black’ figure. I remember him sitting in someone’s garden, I think it was Pye’s sister’s, out in Sturry at Whatmore Hall and there was all the Soft Machine gear outside and this American guitarist Larry (Nolan) was there at the time. Daevid Allen might have been there but I don’t think he was actually. Larry had a nice big L5 Gibson. I remember it well. Pye ended up living there too; his sister took on this place that he could stay in basically. Kevin Ayers used to come and visit there and Robert and everybody. I saw them play in the garden and it was amazing, really good music with the Hammond organ and the drumming, it was like Yay! This is good news. This is somewhere else! What a din it was but what a nice lot of harmonic stuff was being used. They had Hymns being used for Rock & Roll. It was like Yay here we go! I remember being really fascinated by that and thinking yes, this is where pop music can go. It was an alternative to the dinky-dinky, dinsy-dinsy poppy music of the time. Suddenly there was this interesting way to go and of course Soft Machine really took off. I remember hearing their first album and thinking it was great, and realising that Hey, we’re like those guys ‘cause Dave can play just as well as that, and he did. There was Pye’s influence and Richard’s influence too. They’d already done that Soul thing and they were much more into doing the Rhythm and Bluesy type of thing rather than the real Jazzy Rock and they always were, whereas I think I’ve always chosen the jazz route. In fact I’m surprised at Pye because he was the one who introduced us to all the things like Don Ellis, three and two-thirds time, counting out odd rhythms with eleven beats in a passage and 7/4, which is great for writing songs. It opens up such a big area. Personally I kept leaning towards the more atonal.

This was when you started writing your own songs?
I always pinged about and wrote little bits of tunes, even when I was in The Wilde Flowers but they never really chose to be finished. They were just like little harmonic things that I would think were interesting, but I was more interested in learning other people’s more elaborate tunes. However, once you start you just get going and the more you learn on your instrument the more often something new and interesting appears. It’s in there anyway, you just write it and out it comes

Who were your influences on the Bass?
My father played double-bass! That’s it. It’s as simple as that.

So when you switched from guitar to bass you didn’t try to particularly emulate anyone?
I just picked out some music of the time, on bass, heard it and learned it. That’s how you learn from other people, they play you something or they write it on a bit of paper and you play the notes and you see how they work with the chords and the melody that are there. I first started to play bass with Caravan but I’m always playing bass on the guitar anyway. When I do solo performances you’ve got bass notes and so it’s nice having other musicians to play your chords and stuff, but then again it took me ages to get up for it because what you have to do is let them play it the way they need to so that they can get their spirit out. If you trap them and say "No, these chords only go this way", from a musician’s point of view the same chord over and over again you start to get irritated by it, especially if it’s got the root and the fifth and the third and everything in there without all of the dissonances that make melodies work. So you get annoyed, they’re already there, so what can you play? So you play all this alien stuff all round it and everyone thinks you’re playing it wrong just ‘cause you’re bored with the notes.

Caravan - October 1968

OK, with you now installed as bassist, Caravan began rehearsing…
In Whitstable for six months. We wrote our first pieces of music down there. It was mainly Pye’s energy to write new pieces of music with us all playing. We all had different ideas and bits of our own that we played but Pye managed to formulate his music most, write the lyrics, get the melody sorted, get a pattern of music to play, get people to play what he fancied doing. We achieved that to quite a degree, but as a collective force we used to play things freely and things could go as far as they went, as far as we wanted them to go then. We used to play for hour after hour after hour after hour and work things out and have fun. Just have fun together. Then we did a few concerts, and we went to stay with Pye’s sister for a few days when she had a flat in Sloane Square. We stayed for six months at Westgate Terrace and then we had to move. We were trying to get places to rehearse, and we ended up in Graveney Village Hall. Verve had decided that they wanted to sign us and they wanted a record made. We eventually got set up with a guy called Ian Raffini as our Manager and it worked out pretty well. We didn’t have a lot of money, we didn’t have a lot of food, but we had Graveney Village Hall to rehearse in for quite a few days. We used the kitchen there to make food and eat and managed to supply ourselves. The Record Company used to give us a small amount of money-seven pounds a week between the lot of us-and we had tents outside the village hall in August to October. It got so cold that we moved the tents into the village hall and then had to take them down every so often. We were actually living in the village hall then, and we had to move our equipment back a bit on Wednesday nights so that the Vicar had a bit of religious space for his young ones, the Youth Club. I remember Pye having to talk to these kids about his idea of religion. I suppose it was quite funny, us giggling in the front row, but then of course the next day the tents went back in and the vicar didn’t know what we were up to. It was warm and cosy and we were getting on with the music. That lasted for a little while but we had to eventually find another place.

In ’68 you went to London and played the underground clubs like Middle Earth…
Yeah we did. We used to go to the psychedelic clubs because they had music that was all different types of things. I remember doing a concert with Chris McGregor’s band and Richard Thompson was there too. I remember seeing Fairport. A very nice show they did, actually. We did some early shows in London and got to know Sarah who was the Secretary of the International Times, the underground magazine. We got offered all of these contracts from Witchseason (Joe Boyd’s Company that was affiliated to the Island label) and one or two other people and we eventually took the one with Verve.

Had you made demos?
Yeah but I think they actually came along and heard us play. I can’t remember where. It was all decided--yes this is an interesting band and they should make a record. We went into the big Moody Blues studio, Advision I think, to do the first album with Tony Cox as producer. We had a nice time and we made a record, mainly under his guidance.

Can you remember why you went with Verve? They were just starting their operations in Europe.
It just seemed like the brightest thing to do. I think we just spoke to a few people. I mean, we hadn’t got a clue and that’s why all the money was signed away. And we’re still the same! We’re still all as bad as each other with contracts and things. Basically we haven’t got a clue about the business and that’s why it all just falls down flat on its face and we all moan at each other because we’ve got no money. None of us has got a clue how to work the business yet the fans always think we must have. The Soft Machine had a contract and I think we imagined that we were following the steps that Soft Machine had taken, trying to get into the business. I’m sure that Pye being the more business minded of us all is into that, but me, I just wanted to play the music and get on with it, get it over and done with and play it as well as we could so we would get much adulation and then hopefully we would make some money. But of course business with music doesn’t work like that, you’ve got to be far more tough, deal with it totally for yourself and of course you’ve got to survive haven’t you? The same sort of situation exists for me now. I can play music, I entertain people, I’m rather poor at business but I’d like to make some money from it. This year will be an interesting one now because I’m going into home CD production. Back then, you could go into home production on what? You’d have to have done it on cassette recorder I suppose. In fact I’ve got music on tape from that period of time, not complete, it’s like lots of my musical ideas and how they are working out. I found some stuff with Robert Wyatt the other day on the back of one of the reel to reel tapes.

This is all unreleased?
Well I can’t release it because its just home tapes. I mean yeah, I could release it, that’s what everybody keeps telling me. I’ve got a whole case full of tapes, but you have to be careful though, because other people played and they’d like to know that it’s going out, especially if it’s going to make them money. I’ve not done it yet but I think I might do. It would be nice to have some money available to make some new music, especially if the music’s worth putting out, but I don’t think I’d want to put out just anything. I know that there are a lot of people doing it…

Voiceprint for one. They have released a large selection of previously unheard Canterbury material, including The Wilde Flowers retrospective.
Actually it might be better if I did go through Voiceprint, if I provided the goods and said here’s the tape, use this, and then sorted out a deal. I think that’s what’s happening at the moment with many things. You’ve got Dave Stewart on Voiceprint, Phil Miller’s on Voiceprint, Pip Pyle’s on Voiceprint. Maybe it would be worth me going into it, but the deal has to be right

Terry King

OK, going back to the first Caravan album. What do you think of it all now?
I like to hear it. Yes, great fun. Good.

Were you pleased with it at the time?
You mean as a musical thing? For sure. Very pleased with it at the time but then what else could we be? It’s like you’re working, you haven’t got much time, you don’t consider it, you play those songs, you just try to make as good a job with it as possible. Later it moves on and you start to think that those songs could maybe be done better now and done in a new fresh way but by then you’re onto something new anyway.

What about the production?
The production was all done by Tony Cox. I think it’s stuck in people’s minds a certain way.

Your two songs on there are very, very bass heavy.
Probably yeah. I don’t know why they mixed them like that. I didn’t have a say in which way they were mixed. I think we suggested things but it was mixed without us being about. I don’t know, are they bass heavy? A bit mushy?

The vocals seem to have been mixed a bit too far back.
Probably yeah, but what we said wasn’t heard, then something else happens and they think that’s the way to mix it. It was our first time and they knew best. That’s why when I go in to record now I like to get in control of everything, but back then in Caravan at the time, everything was done for us. The engineers…you don’t engineer your own music thing, you hear it and you make suggestions as to how you want it and if the band stand together strong enough you can get it that way. It might have been that I was getting a bit bored, that I couldn’t hear the bass because there was so much going on and that went through and someone put the bass up a bit, but did I like it at the time? Yeah. Do I like to listen to it now? Yeah I can hear it all. I can hear everything that’s going on so it was quite well recorded. Was it the right mix and did it work? Who knows?

It got good reviews.
Yeah, because it’s a great album. Nice tunes, especially Pye’s tunes. I like ‘Place Of My Own’, not so keen on ‘Ride’…what are the other ones?

‘Ride’ and ‘Magic Man’ are probably the most psychedelic tunes on there.
‘Magic Man’ I like because it’s a really good, simple tune that you can sing with kids. I’ve done that with children. That’s a great tune. It’s easy to learn and they like singing it. Dave’s chords are the best things about it; what he did to that tune made the tune. I wrote ‘Policeman’ with Dave’s organ in mind, that "joonnk, jonng, gog-a-gog-a-gog-a, joonk, jonng" part. Dave’s very influential in those songs. I mean he IS a great influence anyway in the music.

That album is a very organ dominated record.
Yeah, and the singing. The singing, the words and the organ. If you were musically minded you’d think the organ yeah.

The drum sound is very powerful too.
Yeah. Actually Richard’s got a real good, clinical deal that’s sort of slightly military but interesting. I actually spot it because I miss it a bit and so does Dave. Richard’s great to play with but he’s much more suited to play with Pye. He’s stable and straight ahead and powerful from a good working point of view. He’s very musicianly about that, Richard. He’s not particularly experimental enough for me…or maybe mental enough for me. He plays good. He’s a good drummer. He’s got quite a nice sense of timing. He swings, he drives, and it really stands out that it’s Richard Coughlan drumming. He really likes clacking them. Pye wanted that too and Richard was able to deliver that.

Disc & Music Echo 1969

The first albumThe first album was released in late ’68 and you were gigging regularly to promote it, but things nearly came to a tragic end early in ’69…
Yeah, we did a concert at the Marquee club. Gun were the band on before us and they played well. We’d just picked up our new PA, a Rosetti thing. The trouble was that one of the earth wires had gone to live so when Pye came up to grab hold of the microphone and say "Hallo!" all that came out to about 500 very damp and sweaty people was "Haaaaaa!" He didn’t get the "lo" out, he fell backwards into the drum kit in a shower of sparks, like the biggest light bulb you’ve ever seen. Richard immediately tried to get through his kit but got burned trying to pull Pye’s arm away because Pye was being sucked onto his guitar. I was just too far away to do anything. I tried to sort of move towards him but there was this deathly silence for about three seconds. The audience, when they saw what was happening, just went totally silent, apart from Pye going "Aaaaahhhhh" very loudly out through a big PA. What saved Pye’s life was cousin Dave, who was thinking quickly at the time, jumped over his organ and pulled his plug out, pulled the line out to his amp and stopped the electricity going through him. By then I think the electricity had gone through Pye for at least ten seconds, maybe longer. He said he felt alright straight afterwards and his heart went back to a normal beat, because a shock speeds up your heart, but Terry King, who was our new manager at the time said no Pye, you must get checked, you won’t be able to play music, you can’t go on. Terry had seen it before and in about ten minutes time Pye started to feel nauseous and went a funny colour yellow. They whipped him up to hospital, checked him over and thankfully he was OK.

And you made as much publicity out of it as possible…
I think Terry was always on the case for everything, he was a good manager actually. He did quite a good job for us really, apart from now we all moan about him taking too much money, but that’s what the contract was and we signed and that’s the way it goes.

Caravan also got onto TV a couple of times.
We did. "Colour Me Pop" the programme was called. The tapes have now disappeared, we tried to trace those but they’ve gone.

Can you remember what you played?
Yeah, we did all the ones from the first album, ‘Place Of My Own’, ‘Ride’, ‘Magic Man’, one or two others. They interwove it on the TV with pictures of castles and things, a bit of psychedelia came through on it. There are pictures of us in our King’s Road gear, the crushed velvet trousers and scarves and sheepskin jackets and embroidered waistcoats and whatever else.

You also did your song "Golf Girl" on Beat Club in Germany
That was through Terry King. He managed a lot of bands that were happening, that he knew people liked, so he got a concert circuit going in Germany. We didn’t do too much work in Germany but we managed to play that. It was in Bremen wasn’t it? I’m sure that one still survives. I’ve seen several copies that people have done including several good ones. It’s done the rounds.

How did the first album fare, sales-wise?
Not sure. I was more interested in playing the music and surviving so I don’t remember how well it sold, though we found out later that they had sold more than we were told at the time. The problem was that Verve closed down their European office so we were left without a contract. Our managers managed to get us in with Hugh Mendl who was the boss with Decca. He signed us and we got to make the next album through Decca at Tangerine Studios with a man called Robin Sylvester. I met Robin recently when I was doing my solo shows in the 90s. He’s a bass player too. He did the Clangers. Remember the Clangers? He was the Swanee whistle player, and he was the engineer on our second album. A guy called David Hitchcock wanted to produce the album but he wasn’t allowed to because he was too junior at the time. On the album it says the group and Terry King produced it but really it was Robin’s influence in there. He was the engineer, he did all of the recording. He was a musician and he had ears, so the album had a much more musicianly quality to it.

There was quite a long gap between the first two albums, something like two years.
We weren’t actually living together so much then. We started to disintegrate as being a bunch of boys. We started to have families and things. Girlfriends and then wives and children appeared, for Pye and I anyway.

Were there any feelings of frustration at the delay?
No, we were getting on with the music, trying to keep stimulated enough to actually play music, but we were going through changes, David especially because the musicians in the band weren’t dealing with his music in the way that he wanted so he eventually left.

If I Could.....advert

If I Could Do It All Over, I'd Do It All Over YouThe second album, "If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You", is possibly the favourite of a lot of Caravan fans. The band seem to have developed a hell of a lot between those first two albums?
Yes, that’s maybe so. We grew up a bit and got into a lot more things. Everybody was developing, finding new formulas and things, they always do. My music tends to get influenced by the ones who are developing sounds and ideas and how to play them rather than sticking with the media system of the time.

Were the songs on the 2nd LP mainly Pye’s again?
Yes. Pye was much better at completing his music than any of us really.

The most famous song on the album must be "For Richard".
(sings riff) We were just playing riffs and as you play you find things to do. I found that riff and Dave got hold of it. He started pulling it around because he liked to write around riffs like that. He wrote a whole piece of music just around those two notes and made the whole thing work, and so he called it "For Richard" which was for me. Pye wrote a little bit that was slotted in before my riff, and then there’s one of Richard’s rhythm things, so we all clubbed together to make this bit of music. The main melodic influence came from Dave Sinclair with Pye sort of putting it into a story in the lyrics.

How about the hedge-clippers on "Hello, Hello"?
I think I added that. Pye and I were very influenced by each other’s chords and writing so there was an inter-mix of ideas. I think the hedge-clipping melody came from the idea of the words and it started to come from Dave first of all. I like to play odd figures and this ‘diddle-iddle-id-dum-dum’ kind of thing is very Pye-esque but I’m always writing things in fives and the strongest sort of melodic thing on fives will come through-but that was probably Pye’s, though maybe it was Dave, I’m not sure. Pye used to come up with most of the ideas that got heard because he was actually interested to sit down and complete them each time. We just used to have fun with them mainly, farting about and in the end, sort of getting it on and trying to write songs. I think Pye was much better at that than the rest of us. He’s more prolific. He came out with more ideas that he had to have played, and they were simpler ideas so they were quicker to learn. Once he’d found them he was happy with that, he didn’t try to take them any further and because of that they were more commercial

Caravan 1970

A good example is the title track. That one got you onto Top of the Pops…
(sings) "Who do you think you are?" That’s a 7/4 figure that Pye was interested in. He came up with the words for that one for sure. I found bass parts around it and things just developed but the pattern of chords came from Pye. It got pushed about a bit but Pye completed it by really tying it down into a form whereas I was probably suggesting another way…why don’t we put that in there and why don’t we chain this bit onto that. By then it was a formula. It was an understandable bit of music, it’s what would be regulated and be acceptable and be Pye!

I suppose the TOTP clip must be long gone?
Did we do it on TOTP? I was probably trying to cut through cables with shears knowing me.

The cover of that second LP. It’s not actually the group stuck in the middle of the Kentish countryside is it?
That’s in London, Holland Park. You just walk in, there’s nice Chestnut trees in there and one of the photographers who was local to there said come on, we’ll go in and do some nice photographs and it’ll be nice to have you sitting down in the woods and looking cool and groovy and that’s what we did. It was fashionable for bands to pose in trees in those days, especially in London, with all the traffic. That was the joke wasn’t it? I was always going out to get my head together and sit under a tree. I still do that now, go and have a chat to a tree, you know. It seems to make more sense.

So the album comes out, great reviews again, sales probably better than the first one and you’re out touring, playing the Festivals in Europe such as Rotterdam.
The first real big major concert that we ever got on was the thing that they called Pink Pop in Holland. It was like a big 3 day Festival of bands that were popular at the time and a few that were being talked about, like Caravan, and we went out there and we played on the second day. Soft Machine were on the same day as we played. We were first on and the main attraction of the day was Mungo Jerry! I remember two hundred thousand paper plates all going in the air at the same time to "In The Summertime", that was great. We were supposed to go on about one o’clock, the first band on in the afternoon. It had been drizzling with rain all night and a good half of the audience had probably stayed overnight in things called ‘special Festi-bags’ or whatever they were called then, they were like bits of paper and plastic stuff, and they were just steaming and still more or less asleep when we went on. They were just sort of comatised there in this drizzling grey, and we couldn’t go on for another hour because some idiot came on with a big brush and pushed the water out of the canvas that was hanging over our heads and they swamped the stage. Everything was sparking and God knows what. I remember when we did go on, we were standing about forty foot up in the air on this huge stage with massive banks of speakers. For us it was the biggest thing we had ever done and the biggest audience that we’d ever played to at the time, those who were awake anyway. I think a lot of people enjoyed it, as they did the whole Festival.

Do you recall jamming with Frank Zappa?
That was later, at the Actuel Festival in Amougies in Belgium, in a big marquee that held about five thousand people. It was a double, round ended tent with a big gantry through the middle. The Festival was compered by Pierre Le Tez, who was a radio presenter. On the bill were artists like The Nice and Archie Shepp. It was like a whole job lot. I’ve still got the programme. That’s where I first saw Gong. On the day that we played they had The Nice, East Of Eden with Dave Arbus, the violinist who still lives in Canterbury, The Band, and Zappa was there to play with everybody. Just before the concert got going he spoke to every group that he’d seen doing a quick rehearsal. He just said ‘Hello I’d like to play with you for about ten minutes, have you got a tune that could work with us?’ I think Pye suggested that we play ‘If I Could Do It All Over Again’. We made it last ten minutes and he played a solo on it. He was quite a small man actually and he looked very stoned indeed, but actually he made a good job with everybody he played with. I remember him climbing onstage with us and it was like someone putting in the handle to start up a vintage car engine. He just wound it up and it was amazing, just incredible. We were just playing a 7/4 figure over a small amount of chords and Dave was rocking it up. It was really good. The band that played before The Nice, Germ they were called, were like a 15 piece, maybe more, and they did an ‘experimental’ bit of entertainment. Amongst all of this Rock & Roll and Jazz they played one note for thirty minutes and it disturbed the audience so much! They were just going ‘Urrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr’, all one tone, all of the lot of them. In total contrast to lots of notes and rhythms it was just one note with varying rhythms, droning on and on and the audience just pelted them and made them leave the stage. They pelted them with everything they’d got, cans and everything. The Road Manager of The Nice, Baz Ward, came shooting on stage and turned all the Marshall cabinets the other way so that all the speakers didn’t get broken because all the tins were hitting everything in sight. Then he had to dash off stage and hope the gear would survive. They had to wait until the audience had calmed down and then The Nice came on and everything was OK, but that was one of the highlights. It was like "What IS that?" Bang, Bong etc because they didn’t like one note being played for thirty minutes.

The Land of the Grey and PinkLet’s move onto The Land Of Grey And Pink, which is now generally considered to be Caravan’s classic work. It differs from the first two albums in that most of the material on the record was written by Dave and yourself rather than Pye.
Three of the tunes were basically mine and some of the other bits and pieces yes, but we were getting a bit stronger and we decided that we did want to get more of our ideas out. I’d written little bits of tunes that I’d never completed. If you listen to some of the stuff that didn’t make the original album but has come out on the CD as bonuses, you can see that I was writing more melodic songs that were going away from the ‘Rock’ thing, but I was having to compromise and get them done in the band’s style because the band wanted to musically ‘rock out’.

Those three songs, the title track, Golf Girl and Winter Wine are still probably your most ‘celebrated’ songs.
They are, aren’t they, but I suppose that’s because more people have actually heard them. That album sold well enough between 1971 and 1980 to go gold. Caravan just awarded themselves a gold CD for Decca sales of the album in England alone. One hundred thousand copies sold of product. It’s never been out of production basically. There was a survey that said that it’s one of the albums that has never been deleted, so that’s done us a world of good and you can’t buy that. I suppose those songs are more identified to me because I sang them. They all put their chip in, the songs sound like they do because of the band and when you write tunes that’s the way it goes all of the time. We’ve all shared the royalties and that’s good. We all put our part in and that’s why they sell like they do.

Where did The Land Of Grey and Pink come from?
Lyrics or melody? The lyrics came later. The melodies always come first for me and that one came from being out in the countryside down at Graveney in the years before and having this pink and grey sky every evening because we were camping out there. As for the lyrics, it’s just a load of words that half mean something. It was drawn on the album sleeve and that gives it a real good character. I was always messing about drawing little fantasy areas and things where you’d like to be, and Pye writes about them…place of my own… somewhere to go…magic man floating off on his cloud and all of that sort of thing. "In the land of grey and pink where only Boy Scouts stop to think". Boy Scouts tend to stop and think a bit, they’re trained to aren’t they? It’s a joke on words really. I was a Boy Scout, bob-a-job. "They’ll be coming back again those nasty grumbly grimblies", they’re those funny thoughts that seem to take over. You do it to yourself really, just make them into little men who climb about. "They’ve come to take your money", like everything you’re trying to earn a bit of money and all of these other thoughts come along and take it away and you have to start again.

So the land of grey and pink isn’t a particularly pleasant place to be?
I think that’s my mind isn’t it? Sometimes it’s not a very pleasant place to be and you have to sort of let a little bit of it out and it amuses other people. And don’t forget about your dad, out there in the rain. Have a chat to him because later in life you’ll miss him. "Cigarettes burn bright tonight"…all good ideas burn bright tonight but they usually go the same way and disappear. Sometimes, not always, but that’s the way it is. It’s about your problems, sometimes they go down the drain, forget all that shit and get on with the happy life. See, it’s just a joke, not with too much sense, probably because they went to get some punk weed y’know.

What about Golf Girl?
Standing on a golf course, right opposite where we were staying. When Caravan moved out of our tents we moved to Stodmarsh, apart from Richard who had his own place somewhere else. Dave, Pye and myself rented a place called St Elmo on the money from the company-it was a very small amount of money a month-and a golf course was right opposite it, Canterbury golf course. I decided to write a tune about a girl standing on a golf course which I decided would be my girlfriend of the time, which was Pat…and she sat under a tree, and we went for walks in fine weather…and that’s what it was about. That’s it really, a joke about people wearing PVC and selling cups of tea, which seemed to be very appropriate at the time because we were having cups of tea with Robert Wyatt and God knows what else. People had ‘tea’ and they liked to write songs about it. Every other song was written about ‘tea’ so I got one in as well…full right to the brim.

And side two was ‘Nine Feet Underground’
That was mostly Dave with a bit of Pye. I don’t think I wrote too much of that. Nine Feet Underground was Dave Sinclair’s idea that had been waiting to get made into a piece of music that lasted a whole side of an album. Thank goodness he eventually managed to get it done and lots of people still enjoy it now. We all worked out parts, mainly from Dave’s ideas where he wanted the notes to go. They had to go in a certain way and we extended that by playing solos and stuff. When someone is playing a solo I try to form a bass line but also try and solo a bit with it so that you can hear what was going on, but I also try and make the music move to where the solo is rather than give it a percussive force behind it that is kind of ‘Regimental’. That was more Richard Coughlan’s definite idea. He kept things very stable and made the music work in its different pieces.

WaterlooYou play some great bass on The Love In Your Eye from the next Caravan album "Waterloo Lily".
I can’t remember it. How does the tune go?

(hums riff--badly)
Ah, it was almost like ‘Big Band’ music. I can’t actually remember what I did on that. I probably played it with some ideas that weren’t particularly standard maybe, which is why it sounds different. You know, I keep finding odd bits like that, copies of old discs and stuff and I say bung it on, I want to hear it. Now that you mention it, that’s the reason that I get to hear these things again. People say "Ooh, do you remember?" because they like this or that, and I think "oh yeah that’s interesting". Steve Miller was on that album. He was a very strong influence. He was playing ‘band’ music rather than pop. He had been playing blues and stuff with Carol Grimes and Delivery. Steve was a great influence on my music, both him and his brother Phil because they were very musicianly about their music. They could push the boundaries out to go in different areas where the music builds and the technicality improves and you’re able to use a bit more…grammar if you like.

We missed out Dave leaving and Steve joining Caravan.
Different influences, a different sound. It was a different band all together and it’s a shame that we couldn’t stick together a bit longer. It would have developed into something more but still very fresh in approach to the music, which was a bit bluesy, a bit jazzy, rather than a more pop orientated Caravan. Steve was more of a piano player than an organist. He wasn’t so keen on organ although he did a good job on it. He was more into another area which, when compared to the sounds of the time, was a bit more fragile. It was experimental but without the massive amount of sound overkill that was going on with Hammond and Lowrey and Leslies and Moogs. Obviously on Waterloo Lily the jazz stylings come through and that’s when the band had to split because Pye didn’t really want to go that way. He wanted to entertain people in a similar way to we had done before but with a more Rock ‘n’ Roll approach instead of a Jazz ‘n’ Roll approach because Pye was more rock orientated even though he listens to a lot of jazz. He was into pop music much more than the rest of us. He identifies with it because that’s what he tries to write.

Waterloo Lily is a schizophrenic album don’t you think?
Yeah, I think that’s my fault. I am schizophrenic, I do like change.

There are Pye’s poppy little songs like "Aristocracy" and then you have Steve’s ‘looser’ pieces and tracks like "Nothing At All".
That’s something I developed to do. It comes from that ‘Jack Johnson’ Soundtrack by Miles Davis, and it’s literally that rhythm. We used to play around with that and that’s where "Nothing At All" comes from. I said "This is good, this’ll get us going", but of course the actual tonalities were a bit alien to Caravan. Me and Steve were trying to push the boundary out so it’s a bit more rhythm-y, a bit more of what musicians want to do together rather than what singer-songwriters want to do.

Caravan 1972Actually that album wasn’t so much schizophrenic as multi-phrenic because there were the poppy bits, the jazz, the epic prog number and also the bawdy Caravan humour in the title track. Maybe there were just too many directions for the fans to take?
Yeah, that’s what was wrong, because we were not working totally together and putting all our energies into sorting it out so you tend to drift apart and that’s what happened exactly. I mean, it would’ve been nice if Pye and Richard could have dedicated their time to Steve and I and just played along with it, but it wasn’t like that. It was mainly just Steve and I playing together. Richard and Pye only really came together to rehearse and play the music together if they were with us. They didn’t go away and do it together on their own and so they stopped doing the stuff that makes the music go on or off the rails. You tend to spend a lot of time with other musicians getting other influences and when you’ve got a band of musicians who just play it one way it gets to be less satisfying. We had used to do get together in a room and just play because we had the time to do that and the desire to do it. Nowadays, with those same musicians the desire really comes from the audience who would like you to do it, but there’s not enough money available to cover the actual amount of non-desire there is to do it from the musicians. You’ve got other things going on in your life that you find you would rather do and so that’s what you do. It’s a shame but you’ve got to have the time to do this stuff and you’ve really got to want to do it and hope that when you’re working together the future result is a positive one. If you want to re-form and simplify the formula for the audience so that in fact you’re very entertaining in a particular way that they can recognise then that’s what you go for, and that’s what Pye’s doing. How I feel about it is that for sure Steve and I played music all the time together, non-stop, day and night, taught it, thought it, because that’s what we wanted to do. In the end the other two weren’t finding the time to do that because they’d got other priorities, children or whatever, or they thought we wouldn’t earn enough money playing that way, so they decided not to do it that way. They decided their money would come from playing familiar Caravan music, with that market in mind but just making it a bit more ‘Rocky’, a bit more guitar led.

They drew the blueprint with "For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night" and they’ve pretty much stuck to it ever since.
Away they went. Yes, I’ve not really followed their music, but yes for sure that’s what they did.

You’ve taken part in a couple of short-term Caravan re-union projects, but you appear to be estranged from their scene now. How do you feel about Pye continuing with new Caravan line-ups?
They’ve got a market. Pye directs everything and Richard backs him up very well. They’re nice writers and good players. They’re entertainers rather than jazz musicians. They think their thing out but it’s really more to do with media operations and doing a certain amount of concerts to be financially viable, rather than writing and creating new music. I like to do that kind of stuff too, lots, but I tend to do it in a different form because I try to play with other musicians who aren’t just identities in the pop world, they’re also musicianly and they’re using wider harmonic ideas. They are prepared to take risks and not just capitalise on the thing that you know is safe and well. I mean, I’d love to be asked to play with Caravan but for me their current music form doesn’t cover it. I think it’s the same thing but in reverse from their point of view about me. When they listen to my music it’s far too elaborate for them, all of these millions of notes and things that are colliding and not quite landing in the right place. But because of it, that’s what gives the music my character.
I’m still doing what I did in the 60s and really that’s why I’ve always left these bands. I’ve always wanted change, but the way that I change is that I get together with musicians and really enjoy their company and play music. If you’re in the same room for long periods of time you should work towards the goal of making your music more exciting and not compromise it by aiming for a lower level than you can actually develop to together just so that a mass audience can accept it. I’m not interested in that. I’d rather take everybody with us and to do that you have to go through the histories of all music, because to develop your own style you need to know what the other pioneers did in their time and then you can…not do it the same way but you use their thinking, "Oh well we don’t need to do it that way, we can turn that upside down and we’ll play it some way else and see what comes out and change the whole concept of the instrument". So instead of singing "Freight Train" by going like this (plinks on ukulele in genteel fashion), you use a different spin-"I’m not going to use it like that, I’m going to try it like this" (aggressive ukulele riffs)-you can change it another way and everybody goes "He’s gone fucking mad", but that’s how these things stick, and if enough people do it then it takes off, hits the media and then it gets called ‘Out-Progressive-Retro-Sonic’ or something’.

Finally, looking to the future, what musical projects are you planning?
I’m trying to get really settled into music this year but I keep getting interrupted by people who want new bathrooms fitted! I’m planning more releases on my Sinclair Songs label, cash-flow permitting. In fact, Dave Sinclair was sacked by Caravan last year and I was on the phone to him yesterday. He was saying "Well Rich, we should do some music together, everybody’s asking for it, even the musicians say that yours and my thing, we influenced this and that, it’s very nice and we should use the musicianly part of Caravan and make our own albums". I said "Good idea Dave, let’s start".

For information on Richard Sinclair&#;s current musical activities see
An official web-site for Caravan can be found at
The best site for comprehensive Canterbury Scene information is
Groups, musicians, releases,'s all here.

Special Thanks to Richard and Heather Sinclair

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